Ottessa Moshfegh’s Man Booker Prize-shortlisted Eileen generated a very mixed reaction among readers last year. However, I was one of those who really enjoyed (if that’s the right word) her debut novel and I was intrigued by her new book ‘Homesick for Another World’, a collection of fourteen short stories which will be published this week in the UK. The tales in this collection range from ‘The Beach Boy’ about a middle-aged couple on an unnamed tropical island to ‘Bettering Myself’ from the perspective of an alcoholic maths teacher in a Catholic school to ‘Nothing Ever Happens Here’ in which an aspiring actor in Hollywood falls for his landlady.
If you thought ‘Eileen’ was repulsive and unsettling in a good way, then it is likely that you will also like ‘Homesick for Another World’. On the other hand, if you thought ‘Eileen’ was repulsive and unsettling in a bad way, then you may wish to avoid this book too. As shown in some of the Man Booker Prize discussions last year, Moshfegh’s choice of subject matter doesn’t always have the widest appeal and her pitch-perfect portraits of a new collection of weirdos and losers is likely to confirm this. The main protagonists in these short stories – both male and female – are for the most part similarly repressed and grotesque as the eponymous character of Moshfegh’s debut novel and intense self-loathing appears to be a recurring personality trait. Most memorable and disturbing of all is Mr Wu who is certainly a character I won’t forget in a hurry.
In less capable hands, the characters in Moshfegh’s stories could easily become tired caricatures, particularly as their creepy personalities overlap by a fair amount despite the different settings and situations they find themselves in across this collection. However, Moshfegh has a very distinctive style of writing which on the surface can come across as being quite abrupt and detached but also allows her to explore characters more subtly through “showing” rather than “telling” their stories.
The title of the collection is certainly fitting given the themes of alienation and dissatisfaction which recur throughout. In each story, Moshfegh dares to explore what many would consider to be the most deplorable even unspeakable aspects of her dysfunctional characters whilst showing that these traits also happen to be their most human qualities. This is what makes ‘Homesick for Another World’ so terrifying yet satisfying overall. Many thanks to Penguin for sending me a review copy via NetGalley.